My guess is this aerial photo of the Solvay Process Company was taken in 1953. I believe the building complex to the right of the reservoir (foreground) was completed in 1952 and the distillation building – the tall structure left of center in the top half of the photo – was torn down in 1954.

The photo is a good indication how large an operation Solvay Process (aka Allied Chemical & Dye) was and now important it was to the village, though the relationship between the two was always one of those love/hate things. I often thought living in Solvay – as much as I loved it – was like growing up in a coal mining town where parents hope their kids won't have to work in the mines like they did. Likewise, the most common goal for Solvay parents seemed to be to have their children escape having to work at the Process, which put food on our tables and clothes on our backs, but filled the air with smoke and soot, lined State Fair Boulevard with ugly waste beds and turned Onondaga Lake into a milky green mess.

And people say life was simpler back then.


What would become perhaps Solvay's most unusual landmark was under construction in 1911 when this photo caught a daring workman on one of the legs supporting the conveyor which carried limestone from the huge pile of rocks that would soon be created on the south side of Milton Avenue to the plant on the other side of the street.

This is the main entrance of the Solvay Process Company (which had become part of Allied Chemical) in 1954. The building on the right is the railroad freight house on Milton Avenue. Many years earlier it was the Solvay train station. The tall building in the background on the left is the old distillation building, which was in the first stages of being torn down. This photo and the one below appeared in the December 1954 issue of Solvay News, a publication of Allied Chemical' Solvay Process division.

This is a view from the Solvay Process Milton Avenue entrance south toward Lamont Avenue. The four-story building on the right is the Pozzi Hotel; on the ground floor was Pozzi's Bar and the first office of Geddes Savings and Loan. Across the street was the location of Bryant's Drug Store. I think the upper two floor were apartments. When I Googled it recently there was a place called Pooch's Leisure Room listed at this address. After Bryant's closed, I believe the space was taken over by George Betts for a smoke shop.

In the early days of the Solvay Process the Erie Canal ran through the middle of the sprawling industrial facility. Here three barges wait to be loaded for a cargo of soda ash.


A view across Milton Avenue from (I'm guessing) the Caroline Avenue intersection. My memory fails – I don't know what the story is with that small structure across the street; it looks like it was being demolished.

In the background (right) the Solvay Process castle. To the left is what I always considered the main part of the company, across the street from what we jokingly called Limestone Mountain.

The original, 192-foot high distillation building, which would have appeared just left of center, perhaps blocking both smokestacks, was torn down and replaced in the 1950s. It was the tallest structure in the village, almost as high as the State Tower Building in Syracuse. (It's visible in the aerial photo at the top of the page.)

In 1944 an Army C-47 plane, on a training mission, was returning to the Syracuse army base in Amboy, when it encountered engine problems, lost altitude, clipped a power line and crashed in a field near the airstrip. I was with my parents at Craig's (The Community) Theater that night when the screen went dark. I don't know how long the electricity was out, but everyone left the theater. Someone outside told us a plane, flying dangerously low, had just passed over the village.

Stories about the crash don't mention this, but my recollection is the plane had hit a flagpole or antenna on the tower of the Solvay Process distillation building.


Solvay News, June 1955

Remember the old arithmetic problem?

"If it takes five men five days to cut the grass on the sides of the large brine reservoir at Syracuse [Solvay], how many days will it take 11 steers to do the same job?"

Well, anyway, it went something like that.

Solvay has gone into the cow punching business. At least, the plant men think they have the answer to the very tough problem of cutting the grass.

Because of the steepness of the reservoir slope, it is considered rather hazardous to use power-operated mowers due to the possibility of the equipment tipping over and injuring the operator.

George Irving, supervisor of waste beds, otherwise known as "commissioner of parks," reason that 11 steers now grazing on the Syracuse property may be the answer. "At any rate," he says, "it's worth try."

The bovine mowers, White-Faced Herefords and Black Angus, are readily adapting themselves to the sloping terrain, adding a pastoral touch to the Solvay landscape. It is the second time that animals have been used to keep the reservoir grass trim and neat.

Two years ago Solvay went into the sheep-herding business. The woolly munchers arrived too late in the season and just weren't up to the job. They had to be relieved of their duties.

A conservative estimate that the present cud-chewers should mow down the trillion plus blades of grass by a month's end has been made by Mr. Irving. If the experiment works, half of the animals will be removed to maintain the grassy status quo.

For more on Solvay way back when, check out
the Solvay-Geddes Historical Society